Saw V (2008) -- Not an Official Review

If you have read any of my previous reviews, you probably know I can't stand modern horror films. However, my one guilty pleasure when it comes to modern horror is the Saw franchise. I acknowledge the fact that Saws 2-5 are just blood filled nonsense...but I can't get enough of it. Because of this bias, I cannot give Saw V an official review or even a number rating. I just want to say that Saw V is much better than any of the others sequels in the franchise, and David Hackl did a very good job directing. The movie focused more on the killer's point of view and wasn't really shrouded in mystery. The previous sequels were all deep mysteries and ultimately the endings were unsatisfying. Saw V was somewhat different, and I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Quarantine (2008)

Being locked in an apartment building is nothing to get shaken up about. Fill that building with virus infected tenants that want to bite your face off, then you've got a problem. Just ask Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter), a news reporter who is simply trying to find a good story with the Los Angeles fire department. Angela gets her wish when an emergency is called in, forcing every firefighter in the precinct to spring into action. With her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), Angela joins firefighter Jake (Jay Hernandez) as he sweeps through the building searching for the problem. But when one of their men is fatally bitten by one of the tenants, the group find themselves in a situation that won't play out in their favor. When they try to escape the building, they find the government has sealed them in, trapping them with whatever is causing the strange behavior in the tenants. I watched Quarantine following a strong recommendation from a friend. I now know I should never do that again. Quarantine is as unoriginal, cliche, predictable, and cheap as any other horror movie destroying a cinema near you.

Director John Erick Dowdle is the man to blame for Quarantine. Acting as writer and director, all of the atrocities and incongruities in the film are strictly on his shoulders. In my writing I try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but for Quarantine, I don't care. What tried to be an innovative horror film was actually a sub par copy of every horror movie you have ever seen. First, the camera. The use of a handicam to shoot a movie has become increasingly popular after its success in Cloverfield. The problem with gimmicks like that though is they wear out their welcome extremely quickly. The camera in Cloverfield was shaky but even at its worst you can still have a general idea of what was happening. However, Quarantine thought it would be a good idea to have the cameraman never stop shaking the camera, perhaps to make it more "realistic". But with realism like that, faces and figures ended up blurring together to create nothing more than masses of differing colors. Second, the creatures. With the splendor of zombie films that are released year after year, it is easy to become exhausted by the genre. Some films recreate these villains, like 28 Days Later. But one thing that all these films hold in common, with the exception of 28 Days Later, is they never reveal why the events you are watching are happening. Usually if a film tries to give an explanation as to why people are suddenly hungry for flesh, they have to try really hard to make it convincing. Quarantine is an example of a film that tried to explain, but didn't do a good enough job. The genius explanation thought up by Dowdle was that a young girl's dog contracted some form of Super Rabies that got out to the rest of the building. Super Rabies. No explanation as to how it became Super. It just is. This leads into the third error of the film: continuity. The reason this Super Rabies is so devastating is because it is exactly like rabies, only people begin to feel the symptoms in a matter of minutes. Yet the little girl who owned the dog, who was shown as sick at the beginning of the film, took over 60 minutes to turn. Not only that, she happened to turn at the exact moment people started thinking, "Maybe the little girl is infected too". So to sound it off, we have bad camera work, bad script writing, and lack of continuity. Sounds like every zombie ever made.

I would love nothing more than to critique the acting in Quarantine. However I feel this may be a futile attempt, because most of the time I couldn't even tell which character was talking due to the awful camera work. All I can say is that the captives were good at screaming and the zombies were good at growling.

When marketing a film, you should do your best to give away as much of the plot as possible to intrigue people, but not give enough away to ruin the entire movie. When it comes to Quarantine, there isn't much of a plot to talk about. It is essentially just people locked in a house with flesh eating monsters. So the only thing this movie could possibly have going for it is hope. You should want people to hope these main characters get out alive (or die, depending on what kind of a person you are). An audience should be stuck to the screen waiting for the characters next move which could at any moment, be their last. Putting aside the fact that I felt no attachment to the characters because I was so put off by the terrible directing and writing, I still didn't feel that hope, because I already knew the ending of the film. No I did not research the ending or ask my friend how it concluded; it was the marketers fault. The fate of the main character is given away in every trailer, commercial, and even the poster. That scene of the woman being dragged away through a night vision lens is literally the last occurrence in the film before the credits roll. The filmmakers and marketing team completely took away the mystery because you knew ahead of time that rooting for them to live was pointless. I sat for 90 minutes watching a bad movie just so I can see what has already been shown in every commercial.

I'm sure many of you are saying "Well Nicholas, it is after all just a horror film. Just let us know whether it was scary or not, because all of these notes on the filmmaking are unnecessary". You are right, perhaps I am being a little harsh and judgemental. I should just worry about whether it was scary or not. Well you know what? It wasn't. Quarantine is nothing more than a pop up and scare you horror film. You could swap this film with any other of the same genre and not be able to tell the difference. If you enjoy cheap scares and terrible movies, I recommend Quarantine. If you want to watch a horror movie that is actually good, steer clear. My rating (2/10)

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)

Once in a full moon, a movie comes around that leaves you scratching your head in utter and absolute confusion. Some of these films are deep and riddled with hidden meanings and subliminal messaging (2001: A Space Odyssey). The rest of those films are simply incomprehensible due to the over-active imagination of everybody involved. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is the latter. A film so whacked out and terrifyingly zany, Wonder Emporium left me deeply disturbed...and mildly entertained. 7 time Oscar nominee and 2 time winner Dustin Hoffman sports a painfully cutesy lisp as the magical Mr. Magorium, a 243 year old toy inventor. For as long as he has been alive, Magorium has brought joy to countless children through his mystical Wonder Emporium. There, kids enjoy toys that defy gravity, rooms with computer generated bouncy balls, and Kermit the Frog. Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) is a worker at the emporium and shares the same goofy and lighthearted attitude as the store's proprietor. For everyone in the neighborhood, especially one young boy named Eric (Zach Mills), Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is the happiest place on earth. But things start to go sour at the emporium when Magorium announces he will be leaving this world...because he has run out of shoes. (Seriously). With Molly in charge, the store begins to become very angry and starts losing its magic. Now Molly has to use the help of Eric and new hum-drum employee Henry (Jason Bateman) to restore the mystical place to its former self. With over 100 moments that made me say "What the crap?", Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is a ridiculous attempt at over the top film-making...and it amused me.

With a plot like Swiss cheese, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium left me dumbfounded time and again with it's ambiguity. First of all, if I were a parent, I'm not so sure I'd let my children spend their entire day at a toy store run by a creepy man with a lisp who claims to be over 240 years old. I feel like that should be a warning sign for parents. It is also all the more bewildering at how everybody in the neighborhood seems to accept the fact that this store is completely out of lines with reality. I'd be terrified if an octopus jumped out of a book and landed on my head! It is also never explained how Magorium gained his magic originally and then how he gave it to Molly. Was he an alien? Was he a wizard? Was he pumping noxious gas through the store to make people hallucinate causing them to believe what they were seeing was true? We don't know. I'm 95% sure if you were to ask writer and director Zach Helm that question, he wouldn't even know. But I think I might be giving Wonder Emporium too much credit by asking these analytical questions. It is after all just a children's movie. It is sort of like asking the writers of Spongebob Squarepants why Spongebob often takes baths, even though he's underwater. Or why when he speaks, bubbles don't come out of his mouth. You are just supposed to look at it at face value and be entertained by it. Regardless of how many times I was left stupefied by Wonder Emporium, I was slightly and surprisingly entertained.

The man behind Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is Zach Helm, who previously penned the acclaimed Stranger Than Fiction. Helm is obviously a man with a vivid imagination, but somebody might want to check his drink for traces of alcohol, because what he created here was a demented work of delirium. He did everything in his power to make this film as wacky and zany as possible. Those really are the only words to describe it. Even the characters in the film use adjectives that are synonyms of wacky and zany. The final credits read all of the characters names as something silly like "Mr. Edward Magorium - Avid Shoe Wearer" and "Eric Applebaum - The Hat Collector". It are the little aspects like this that made Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium almost unbearable for me. Almost.

The performances in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium weren't making matters an easier to take. Dustin Hoffman's campy, kooky, wacky, and nutty Mr. Magorium was enough to make me suspicious that somebody dropped a hit of acid in my soda. Complete with mad scientist hair and the aforementioned dreadful lisp, Magorium seemed like a character that should be in an early Saturday morning cartoon. Instead of being lovable and amicable, he flustered and perturbed me. His ceaseless corny jokes became tiresome and sometimes moronic. He seemed to have a strange obsession of trying to figure out why their are always more hot dogs than hot dog buns. It was amusing once, but when he brought it up again it was just unnecessary. Natalie Portman had to do her best to seem as childish and immature as possible in order to fit the bill in this movie. Perhaps that is why she was sporting the 12 year old boy haircut. Realistically speaking though, Portman is a good actress but she does not have the sparkle that is needed to be entertaining in a children's film. You could see in her face that she was hoping for the chance to do some real acting, but this movie was about fun, so she just held it inside and sleepwalked her way through it. Jason Bateman, who apparently felt this movie was more important than working on something better, say, a movie based on his hilarious hit TV series Arrested Development, shows up in this film to provide pretty much nothing. Maybe the only somewhat genuine performance in this schlock-o-rama was that of 12 year old Zach Mills, who played the outcast little boy that finds refuge inside the walls of the Emporium. He showed a real attachment to all the characters and was really the only sympathetic one of the bunch. It wasn't great, but it was very impressive.

What shocked me most about Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was not it's wacky characters or outlandish plot, but the idea that I was somewhat entertained by it. After all the negatives I have thrown around about this film, I can't help but feel like I enjoyed it. It reintroduced me to the idea of magic and wonder that I had when I was a child. It took me away from dealing with horrible things such as applying to college, and brought me to a place that was nothing more than a place to have fun. For 93 minutes, I was in a place that I could enjoy, that I didn't have to worry about. Their was barely any viable conflict in the film because I knew how it would end, so I couldn't even be weighed down by that. Although still extremely flawed and altogether nonsensical, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium creates a wholesome environment that your children will definetly enjoy...and you might even enjoy it too. This movie goes in my list of films that is so bad, it is good. My rating ( a very watchable 5/10)

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange